Yes, there is a strong case to be made for lower tariffs, and even possibly some degree of uniformity. High telecom growth has gone hand-in-hand with high rates of economic growth in the individual countries. In light of the trends to increasing integration within the region, accelerated by current economic conditions, there is value in enhancing the preconditions for increased economic activity and people-to-people exchanges. Today, it is cheaper for most citizens of South Asian countries to call the United States on the other side of the world than to their next-door neighbors. The lowering of call charges will drive up volumes so that the operators will still make money. More economic activity among South Asian countries will contribute to economic growth and will thus also contribute keeping up the momentum of telecom industry growth.
Looking at the current telecom scenario in Saarc with so many players coming entering the emerging markets, what do you think can boost growth and increase profitability?
The solution to problems of profitability is orderly rules for exit. Government must make these rules, including a framework for a secondary market in spectrum. Operators have to move fast to grow the markets in more-than-voice services. This will be the key to improving profitability in the short term.
What have been the latest challenges faced by Saarc countries and how can they be overcome?
The greatest challenge is maintaining transformative economic growth (around 10% for several years running) in the face of lower demand and protectionist pressures in traditional European and North American markets. This means refocusing on Asian markets. Given the importance of services to the region, there is merit in creating the conditions for intra-Asian services trade, across broadband.
What strategic measures can be taken to increase the broadband penetration in Saarc countries where rural sector is the dominating factor?
The path to connecting large numbers of South Asian masses to the internet is the extension of the Budget Telecom Network (BTN) business model to more-than-voice services on broadband. Broadband, for this market, has to be Wireless.
Making more frequencies available through refarming is the most urgent measure that should be taken. Given this will take time, it is necessary to develop, announce and adhere to a roadmap when frequency bands will be made available. In the interim, rules must be set in place for secondary trading of spectrum. Rationalizing taxes and levies (including high universal service levies) is the second priority for government. Operators should focus on making more applications available through 'app stores'. The time of looking for the killer app is over. It is the results of decentralized innovation that will drive the market.